In a couple days, we’re going to release “Health for All” after 2 years of development. There’s a long history behind this project, so I thought it was important to get it all down.
Me with Martin Kamela in Delhi, on our second-to-last day of production. Taken by our fantastic writer/researcher/producer/photographer, Annie Huth.
Health for All began in earnest some time in mid-October 2011. I’d just finished work on a film about environmental issues in Sri Lanka—a beastly 50-minute film for the Periclean Scholars ahead of us—and within days Tom Arcaro (EP, director of the Periclean Scholars program) and I were talking about how we were going to make this next film.
The conception of the project goes a bit further back, though. Periclean is a 3-year academic program that focuses on global engagement. From day one of our sophomore year, we held classes twice a week, partnered with NGOs in India, and developed projects that were meant to do something more meaningful than just throw money at an issue. And honestly I couldn’t be much prouder of my class—we held numerous events on campus, brought in guests from India, raised enough money to restart an adolescent girls program at a rural nonprofit in India, and created a multi-day conference in India to discuss corporate social responsibility and connect nonprofits to businesses—among many other accomplishments.
And it was in my first semester with my classmates that I latched onto the idea of creating a documentary. I’d pulled all-nighters to write giant papers about caste system, health issues, and politics in India. I knew a good bit about the country for a 19-year-old who’d never been to Asia, but I had no idea what I wanted the film to be about. Tom and I met sporadically to talk about the project, laying the groundwork but never quite settling on a plan. Martin Kamela, our class mentor, was helping us shape what we were actually going to do in our three years.
Our class traveled to rural Maharashtra in summer 2010 to begin a partnership with the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed. We spent time learning on the ground how their village health worker model worked. We saw the impact of health on the whole community—in terms of health itself, but also women’s empowerment, economic stability, caste issues, and education. CRHP’s philosophy is simple, but elegant: if you give people the tools, they’ll make change. CRHP trains women from each village to act as a health worker (VHW), and often they are Dalits (Untouchables). We spent time with these women in their villages—some of them have delivered nearly 500 children, and helped bring down the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and hypertension by addressing bad habits within the communities. We learned from CRHP the importance of working with the community to address needs rather than deciding what they need for them. As Ravi Arole, director of operations at CRHP, told us, “The people know their problems the best.”
The moment the story of our film was settled was on a separate village visit with me and two members of my class where we filmed CRHP’s mobile health team, which travels around Maharashtra to work with partners. We visited an empty building that needed to be unlocked. There was no furniture, just walls and dust. This was supposed to be a government health clinic where a doctor would visit twice a week. No doctor had ever come.
We spent another year and a half in class, honing in on our projects and research. Production on Health for All only started once we had a solid grasp of the story we were trying to tell—after reading many more books, discussing topics with our partners, and launching a failed Kickstarter campaign in winter 2011. We re-launched our campaign in October 2011, and earned the support of 68 awesome backers, raising more than $4,000. “Health for All” was actually a working title for the Kickstarter. We actually stole the term from two of the organizations in the film — CRHP and Swasth (both use it as their slogans).
On December 28, 2011, we flew for 30 hours, and we filmed for five weeks in Mumbai, Jamkhed, Pune, Hyderabad, and Delhi. Throughout the spring, we edited furiously. At one point, a hard drive with about 7 weeks of editing files died (I was only backing up raw materials at that point), and we had to start over. Graduation took precedent, and the project spilled into the summer.
In the fall of 2012 I received an email from Mark Deichmann, representing the Turkish city of Izmir’s bid for the World Expo 2020. I thought it was spam, but at the end he said he was proposing a partnership: we’d come to Istanbul to cut a 5-minute version of the film with them, which would then be screened at a meeting of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). During the next two months, we entered the final stage of editing the film, traveled to Turkey, and presented the short cut for representatives from 167 countries, highlighting the themes of our film and the commitment of Izmir to health for all (it happens to be the name of their program, as well).
In Paris, while Tom and I were on a break from presenting at the BIE, my bag was stolen. It had my hard drives and laptop. We lost everything: all original footage, editing files, score files, etc. All we had was what had been uploaded online somewhere. And thankfully many of us were working remotely, so we were able to salvage mostly what we needed.
Sometime after, the decision was made that the film could be put online in the best form possible. So we brought it back into a timeline and reworked what we could. So here, what you see, is the film that could never have been, and was four years in the making.
In terms of outcome, we’ve been fairly blown away by the support of the Turkish government. The point of our partnership was not to market their theme or our movie. It was to demonstrate why the idea “health for all” is so important. This is the second bidding cycle in a row that Izmir has bid—both times using the same theme. And this time they were committed enough that they donated $100,000 to CRHP to build a training center, which opened officially on August 27 (one day before my birthday, which made me fairly happy sitting over here in the U.S.). The training center ensures that CRHP can ramp up its work training village health workers and organizations that want to replicate their model. And honestly, we never imagined something so impacting or tangible would have come out of this project.
So now, we just want to put the ideas out there. There’s important stuff being said in this film by some pretty smart people. So watch it, think about it, and pass it on. Check out CRHP and Swasth’s websites. And keep up with the Turks—the voting for Expo 2020 happens later this year.